We all have hot parenting buttons. I don’t mean those buttons our kids push when they want to get their own way. I mean those buttons our parenting friends push when they change the rules, when they extend bedtime another half hour, offer candy before school, raise their kids’ allowance, or suddenly allow toy guns in the house.
And if the rule-changer – that parenting ally whose philosophies have aligned with ours on every topic under the sun for two solid decades – trips one of our hot buttons as they’re changing the rules, we may ask ourselves quietly, “Am I wrong?” or we may ask them in a heated way, “How can you be so wrong?!?” And then what? Do you stay friends? Can your children still have playdates with theirs? Are there buttons which must never be pushed?
Here are some of my hot parenting buttons:
Long before I was a mom, I decided never to allow my child sweets between meals. In my house growing up, candy came at Halloween and Valentine’s Day, was doled out over a couple weeks, and then disappeared. After dinner, I had ice cream for dessert. Every night. This was a very big deal.
As a teenager, I would test my willpower by sitting on the couch with homework while no one was home, putting my hand inside a bag of cookies to prove I could leave it alone. My mom binged on sweets. She hid them all over the house.
I didn’t want to raise a child with a sweet tooth. Neither did my friends. We discussed it incessantly before our children had teeth.
My daughter’s first sweet was birthday cake. On her first birthday, she took a curious, almost cautious, bite and then eagerly began shoving fistful after fistful into her mouth. As cute as she was in that moment, I thought I would die. Now she knew what cake was. It was my job to set boundaries around that enthusiasm.
At seven, she has dessert twice a week, candy at lunch after Halloween, sweet prizes from her teacher at school, a daily chocolate advent calendar from her grandparents, and anything friends share with her at recess. We talk with her about nutrition, and energy, and eating the good stuff (the healthy stuff) first, to build her muscles. She sometimes exercises self-restraint.
And I am beginning to understand there are worse evils.
Guns are simple. No guns. My daughter has known from an early age that violent toys are not allowed. No weapons. I explain to her that guns – real guns – hurt people, sometimes kill them, and are never okay. She seems to understand. “Guns can make your child dead,” she informed me when she was four, sitting high in her booster in the backseat of the car. It wasn’t something I told her. I had never used those words exactly, but it was something she knew. Maybe she pieced it together from things I said.
All my parenting friends shared this rule. I had plenty of support. Until one day, I walked into the house of one of my closest friends while her son was constructing elaborate guns out of paper and Scotch tape. I felt the sound of an iron gong reverberate in my chest. For weeks, I waffled about what to allow and not allow my daughter to do in her house. I’d never had to set a special boundary for my daughter before, not in this house, and I wasn’t sure what it would mean to any of us if suddenly I did.
Instead, I changed the rule: No guns in my house. That was something I could control, and it wouldn’t interfere with the delicious sense of belonging we all felt with these friends, the feeling that while we were together, all was right with the world. Besides, my daughter was playing cops and robbers, superheroes and bad guys with the boys at school, shooting people with her pretend robotic arm. I wasn’t going to walk out onto the playground at recess and hand that robotic arm a book or a ball now, was I?
When do you make the kid follow the rule, and when do you change the rule to follow the kid? It’s messy stuff, this rule-setting, and I’m not saying I have it down. I’m just saying this is how it is for me.
- American Girl Dolls
I didn’t have a stance on American Girl Dolls before becoming a mom. I was mystified by them. I observed girls with their moms on Michigan Avenue every summer with American Girl Dolls (AGDs) cradled lovingly in their arms. The dolls and their girls – the girls and their dolls – often looked alike, and the girls were nearly always light-stepping with glee, gazing into the eyes of their dolls while crossing streets, eating candy, or entering another store. I found it strange, and expensive, and believed they were all tourists.
For years, this phenomenon didn’t touch me personally. Then one day, my daughter announced, “I want an American Girl Doll!” Within weeks, it seemed her best friend had acquired three. To hear her tell it, every kid in her class had one sitting in a little AGD chair with a tiny AGD book propped up on a delightfully wooden AGD table in a bedroom at home.
My partner and I, for more than a year, said “No” to the AGD. During this time, I even popped my head into the store, intrigued with their tremendous appeal. I found dolls who looked like my daughter, sort of, who had glasses and milk chocolate skin, shiny black hair and $112 matching dress sets – one for the girl and one for the doll – beds, closets and ponies all just the right size. Unlike her response to other boundaries we’d set, my daughter’s pleas for an AGD grew stronger, not weaker, with our repetitive, unwavering “No’s.”
We began to take notice. She was, after all, getting older and more capable of deciding so many things for herself. What were our real fears?
The AGD was better than Barbie. Yes, and I begged and begged and begged my mom for a Barbie townhouse when I was her age. But would owning an AGD pre-dispose her to need Gucci glasses and a Prada purse in later life? Apple Bottom jeans and Nike footwear? I discovered Dollie and Me and The Springfield Collection, whose prices were much friendlier than “the real thing.” But even after she bought a look-alike doll from The Springfield Collection with her own money, which she had saved carefully for six weeks, my daughter still wanted an AGD. Nothing else in her little heart of desires even came close. Now what?
I mentioned on Facebook that our resolve had wavered. “I think I need a moment to process this,” my friend – who has a daughter one year older – wrote back. They have been saying “No,” too.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” It really does. And I want mine raised by the village, but when someone in the village steps back and the rules change or the boundaries blur, well then I have choices to make. Step up or step back? Stand up or give in to preserve the peace? How do we make that choice each time? It isn’t easy, and yet as parents, we do it every day.